Homemade Mac #2: Message to the Future

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When I was eight years old, I watched a PBS special on time capsules and was immediately inspired. I gathered together my metal Wonder Woman lunch box filled with oatmeal-raisin cookies, a list of my best friends ranked in order, and my patent leather dress shoes -- which I was sure constituted a scientific breakthrough. I then stuffed these and other treasures into a garbage bag and buried my time capsule under roughly three inches of dirt for future generations to find.

It remained hidden there for an entire 17 hours until my mother discovered I had no shoes to wear to Sunday School.

So not all of my projects have been ringing successes. Still, time capsules are a great way to record a special moment in history. And whether you've decided to celebrate the new millennium this year or next, I say there's no better time to reflect on the past, speculate about the future or document questionable fashion trends than now.

Time Keeps on Slipping...

Warning: If you are the type who sneaks out to the living room in the middle of the night and carefully plies open Christmas presents to see what you are getting, this may not be the best project for you.

That said, making a time capsule can be a lot of fun -- especially if several people contribute to its contents. This makes it a perfect project for classes, families or a group of friends, and a great excuse to plan a 10- or 20-year reunion.

What goes into your time capsule is completely up to you. You can offer an historical or cultural perspective by including newspaper clippings (the AP has an interesting timeline of top stories from the 20th Century ), pages from a fashion magazine, or a photograph and list of your home computer equipment. (Trust me, you'll get a kick out of it in 20 years.)

For a more personal touch, write up lists of things you want to get rid of (jobs, medical problems, annoying ex-boyfriends), things you hope will be invented, or predictions for what your life will be like by the time you reopen the time capsule.

The Ravages of Time

Of course, not everything is well-suited to be locked up in a box for a decade or two... or twelve. Think twice before including CD-Rs, Zip disks or anything else that requires additional equipment for viewing. By the time your capsule is opened, that technology might well be obsolete. Also, don't include anything you might want to take out and look at. Instead of sealing away the originals, scan your family photographs and mementos into the computer and print them out on archival paper.

And if you truly intend to preserve your time capsule's contents for future generations or intend to bury it, you will have take some extra precautions with your selections.

First, remember that even in dry conditions, many materials decompose over time. It should go without saying that this means no plant, animal or insect products (Future generations will be grossed out enough just looking at our fashion sense -- no need to compound the problem with decay.) If you include electronic devices, be sure you take out the batteries, which will corrode. Rubber also deteriorates over time (admittedly, a long, long time) and releases sulfur, as does wool.

Most paper, especially newsprint, is acidic and will break down over time. A good alternative is to print or photocopy these documents on archival (acid-free) paper, then laminate or store them in a separate bag from the rest of the items. If you do decide to include photographs, black and white pictures will last longer than color. And Polaroids have about as much chance of survival as a Hawaiian shirt in Steve Jobs' closet. (You can read more archival tips at www.barrtek.com/tips/preservation.htm.)

Buried Treasure

Once you've selected your mementos, it's time to close up your capsule and store it away. Keep in mind this isn't like burying your Wonder Woman lunch box -- you can't just throw stuff in a shoe box and dig a hole in the backyard. If you plan to bury your time capsule, make sure your container is sturdy and watertight. Your best choice is a sealed metal box or tube. Some companies such as Barr Technologies sell heavy duty time capsules made from aluminum, although these can be fairly expensive. The $25 Millennium Time Capsule is a cheaper option, but may not be up for the long haul.

Bury your time capsule someplace relatively dry, that will not be prone to severe changes in temperature and will not be dug up anytime soon. Then mark the spot so you don't have to dig up the whole backyard to find it.

A much simpler option is to leave the time capsule in the possession of someone trustworthy with instructions that it is not to opened until some specified date. I have a theory that the safest place in the world is the back of a closet beneath all of the junk you will never use but never get rid of. (Elvis himself could be hiding out in my hall closet and I'd never know.) Now simply wipe the time capsule from your mind and wait for Father Time to work his magic.

Got a Mac craft-related suggestion for Macworld Assistant Editor KELLY LUNSFORD? Drop her a note at kelly_lunsford@macworld.com. An archive of previous Homemade Mac columns is also available.

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